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A classic psychological proposition has it that men select their future wives based on their mothers, either to duplicate what they loved or to avoid what they hated. Needless to say, such predictability and dependence on behavioral conditioning doesn't at all sit right with rational people. We take pride in our native ability to think for ourselves and be independent and self-governed. Still, there probably is a significant grain of truth to this statement of inevitability, Kismet or predeterminism.

After all, children, whether they later deny it or not, are patterned by their parents for better or worse. The only way to avoid post-natal conditioning is either to have no parents (as in absentee landlords) or to be surrounded by as many as possible (as in communal conditions where a multitude of caring influences cancels fixation on any one particular role model). Regardless, you can't ever avoid genetics nor the imprinting of thought and emotional patterns while in the womb.

Audiophiles are no different. We are patterned by whatever constitutes our first Aha! experience. And that tends to happen upon us involuntarily and unexpectedly. Each subsequent shaping of our audiophile expectations then becomes a function of what we're exposed to next. In fact, our entire system will develop around what we presume to be -- or are outright taught -- is most important.

Though we continuously make choices and believe in our God-given freedom of choice, these choices aren't as free as they appear. There's always a good amount of predetermination mixed in that compels us to make one choice over another while remaining completely oblivious to further choices we might make instead. In fact, one could posit that full consciousness is all about the ability to make truly free choices liberated from karmic seeds which otherwise limit the scope of available options. Karma then assumes not some cosmic but nebulous accounting force but becomes a simple psycho-physical mechanism of cause-and-effect that creates behavioral patterns in all the dimensions of the being.

Back to audio and its howling wolves of Pavlov's trained reflexes. Depending on the further conditioning that goes hand in hand with making partially predetermined audiophile choices, you could turn out to become a "the source is most important" kind of guy or gal. You could insist that the speakers are most important. You could vouch that preamps are redundant and go for a source with integrated attenuator. You could believe that preamps constitute the brain and nerve center of the entire system and are thus the most important component. Or you could do what I did, go to India and end up believing that the ultimate magic is in the listener himself.

However it works out -- and this is most important for reviewers to consider -- our experiences and whatever conclusions we draw from them are not a function of a cool and detached, gigantic yet unhurried survey of what the global market has to offer. Rather, how we first come across a system that injects the audiophile virus into our veins determines how we'll go about assembling our own. What we can afford and what we have local access to become further determining influences. This is all patently obvious. What is less obvious and much harder to do? How to separate our cognitive facilities from the conditioning determinism that formulates our beliefs. Would I have gotten as heavily (or at all) into tubes had I not worked for Mesa Engineering? Would I have ended up with predominantly 1st-order speakers had not the store I worked for carried Vandersteen and Linaeum and eventually Meadowlark? The first speaker I ever owned was a Vandy 2ci. The next one was a factory-modified Linaeum LFX-5 with Vandersteen 2W subwoofer. The next one was a Meadowlark HotRod Shearwater. Skipping over the following two Triangle models, I then ended up with the Avantgarde Duos which are 1st-order above the subwoofer modules while the latest addition to this stable are the 1st-order Gallo Reference 3s.

Our writers Chip Stern and Ken Micallef are both drummers. Does it stand to reason that percussive transients, pace'n'rhythm, dynamic headroom, superior rise times and precise articulation would be of great importance to these gents? Is it imaginable that truth of timbre would be of higher hierarchical importance for someone like me who played the clarinet for over 15 years? Would someone playing the piano or the violin have a different perspective on what's most important in a playback system?

You see where I'm going. The particulars of our respective audiophile journeys are not important. They are all pre-mapped by our personalities which are only partially of our own conscious creation and mostly the reactive accumulation of life experiences and subconscious conditioning. That's perfectly natural and no cause for alarm as long as we don't become advisors for others.

However, once we assume some form of advisory function, something about this process should become more conscious and less reflexive. It's not appropriate to blindly pass on what we believe to be the truth without first attempting to objectify our own assumptions and beliefs. Our audience -- of one or many -- deserves the benefit of options and disagreements, of flowing realities rather than concrete truisms. We must question what we know or think we know. That part's obvious, too. Alas, are we really capable of divorcing ourselves fully from the many arbitrary influences that shaped our audiophile persona and with it, our viewpoints and perspective?

I propose that it is impossible to make a complete separation. We cannot not be ourselves to wake up one morning with our identity erased to be as fresh as virgin snow, sans opinions, notions and a certain amount of experience to back them up. However, as long as we appreciate this fact and convey our own limitations such that whatever advice or opinion we do give become tempered by humor and relativity, the recipient isn't being indoctrinated to become a self-perpetuating clone of us. Rather, he is empowered to make his own discoveries. And while we perhaps endeavor to gently guide him to avoid certain of our own costly mistakes, he doesn't otherwise become blindly preconditioned to duplicate our own journey and results. A good question to ask could be this: In hindsight, would we go about assembling our own reference system in exactly the same manner and sequence we did over countless years of step-by-step upgrades?

Or would we tackle this task in a completely different fashion now? If so, how many others have we already sent down the very paths we now question and would no longer take? Each time we make a left or right or continue straight on our audiophile path, certain doors close, others open. High-sensitivity speaker people are bound to investigate low-power amps. The likelihood is great that some or most of those will be tube-based. Colossal low-impedance monoliths will invariably mandate high-power solid-state amps. Vinyl sources may require different system voicing from digital sources. As soon as we make one choice, we link up to certain others but also disconnect from specific ones that suddenly lose relevance and appeal.

As tends to be the case in regular life as well, those who have traveled far and wide tend to become more open-minded and tolerant than beginners. They appreciate that the more they know, the less they know - there's so much more to learn and experience still. In the end, that's perhaps the best thing to remember: How little we know, how much of what we think we do know is predetermined and reflexive only. If nothing else, this makes us more suspicious of our own opinion and less of a raving evangelizer; more ambiguous about giving clear-cut advice and perhaps more likely to dole out generalized information only. This might impress upon the recipient the need for making his or her own inquiry. It might disassociate him from the likelihood of being imprinted by ours, to make his own choices and mistakes.

Making a mistake is a mistake only if we don't learn from it. If we do learn from it, it wasn't a mistake. And if we don't make so-called mistakes, we stop learning and stagnate. The question simply boils down to this: Do we truly want to learn from experience and thus be empowered to really know? Or do we prefer to think we know and let others have the actual experience and pay for it?

You get what you pay for, literally and figuratively. In the end, audio reviews are nothing more but travel agency brochures. The pretty pictures in the brochures are never the same as the actual experiences of the destinations they depict. In fact, they could be taken from a rather peculiar and limited angle that requires just the right time of day and creative cropping of distracting scenery to arrive at the picture that had you book your trip. Better to make the trip and find out for yourself whether the picture and reality really have that much in common. Should you find that they don't, ask yourself whether you could take one single photograph which truly does justice to your experience of the place. If you can't, can you forgive reviewers for failing just as miserably? While we're at it, can you stop expecting much more than a rough sketch with a few scenic notes and personal commentary thrown in?

One particular inmate on audioasylum seems to believe that reviewers should spell out in no uncertain terms what a reader should purchase. Such an assumption might make our little black wolf puppy above wonder. If he can figure out where and when to take a leak, how come humans need to be told what to do? Perhaps reincarnation as an audiophile or solider isn't such a lofty goal after all? Naturally, everyone has the right to expect different things from audio reviews. This inmate clearly finds us wanting. Alas, there's a good reason for that: 6moons has far more faith in its readers' intelligence and maturity than this inmate seem to have in himself. To even conceive of the notion that you'd want us to tell you what to buy would never occur to us. Our letters/feedback section proves this beautifully. We hardly ever get letters asking us to assist in purchase decisions. In the few instances when we do, the questioners are merely curious about specific applications of products we have already reviewed. And while all of us are happy to share with you what we (think we) know, we always assume that you're fully capable and intent to make your very own decision in the end. All we can do is help to either narrow down your options or expand them. Which choice to make will be up to you. Or (to return to our running subtext of today), at least it'll appear that way...